Piazzolla’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”: Winter and Spring

During his student days, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) attempted to run away from his Argentine Tango roots, only to return home.

In 1954, he wrote a symphony for the Buenos Aires Philharmonic which earned him a scholarship to study in Paris with the legendary Nadia Boulanger. It was in a lesson with Boulanger that the young Piazzolla was encouraged to embrace his authentic voice. In his memoir, the composer recalled,

She kept asking: “You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play, then?” And I didn’t want to tell her that I was a bandoneón player, because I thought, “Then she will throw me from the fourth floor.” Finally, I confessed and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: “You idiot, that’s Piazzolla!” And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds…

Tango was born in the working class neighborhoods of mid-19th century Buenos Aires. It developed as a fusion of European, African, and native Argentine elements. Although initially controversial among traditionalists, Piazzolla’s nuevo tango reinvigorated the sultry musical form and transported it from the streets into the concert hall. A fusion of disparate influences characterized Piazzolla’s nuevo tango, including jazz and the 20th century classical music of composers such as Stravinsky and Bartók.

This rich fusion is on display in Piazzolla’s Cuatros Estaciones Porteños (“The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”), a collection of four stand-alone pieces completed in 1970. (Los porteños, “the people of the port,” refers Buenos Aires’ spirited working class). The first piece, Buenos Aires Summer, was composed in 1965 for a play by Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz, entitled Melenita de Oro. All four pieces were scored originally for an intimate tango ensemble consisting of violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón, an instrument which resembles an accordion.

At the heart of Piazzolla’s style lies a sense of freedom and improvisation. The most popular among an array of free adaptations of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons is a version for solo violin and string orchestra, created by the Russian composer, Leonid Desyatnikov in the late 1990s. Desyatnikov’s arrangement unifies the piece as a four movement suite, organizes each movement in three sections, and includes musical references to The Four Seasons of Antonio Vivaldi, composed some two hundred and fifty years earlier. At times, the Vivaldi quotes reflect the inversion of seasons between the northern and southern hemisphere.

In the opening bars of Winter, the soulful tango melody is introduced by the cello, and accompanied by warm, divided low strings. It unfolds over a walking bass line, a contrapuntal device found in both jazz and the music of J.S. Bach. Throughout the arrangement, the solo violin is a brilliant and virtuosic protagonist. Following a free spirited cadenza, it enters into a passionate duet with the solo cello. In Desyatnikov’s version, the movement reaches a vigorous climax with an homage to the tempestuous descending scales from the final movement of Vivaldi’s Summer Concerto. The final movements bring an allusion to the pizzicato motor from the Largo movement of Vivaldi’s Winter.

Spring blossoms with a bright fugue. The accompanying string instruments form a percussive rhythm section with “scratch” sounds, which are played behind the instrument’s bridge. The final bars fade away with a ghostly harpsichord remembrance of Vivaldi’s Spring. 

In future posts, we will explore the other two movements. For now, here are Winter and Spring, performed by violinist Gidon Kremer and the ensemble he founded, Kremerata Baltica:

The Version for Solo Violin and String Orchestra (Arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov)

Invierno porteno (“Winter”):

Primavera portena (“Spring”):

Piazzolla’s Original Version (Recorded in 1970)

Invierno porteno (“Winter”):

Primavera portena (“Spring”):


Featured Image: “Springtime in Buenos Aires,” photograph by Travel Neville

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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